The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Higher Learning initiative has awarded Dr. Gayatri Gopinath, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and Director of Arts & Science’s Center for the Study of Gender & Sexuality (CSGS), with a $500K grant to create an Intersectional Feminist/Queer Studies Collective at NYU.
Mellon reached out to Gopinath for a proposal in 2021, in itself a prestigious recognition of Gopinath’s own contributions to the field, the reputation of CSGS, and NYU’s critical mass of leading scholars in intersectional studies. Gopinath is joined by Maria Josefina Saldaña Portillo (Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU), Jacqueline Nassy Brown (Anthropology, CUNY), and Joan Morgan (Center for Black Visual Culture, NYU), who serve as the Collective’s core committee.
The Collective will provide a forum for intellectual exchange among scholars, artists, activists and cultural workers throughout New York city and the Tri-State region, exploring the uses and manifestations of intersectional feminist and queer analysis in multidisciplinary initiatives. In addition to shared work and scholarship, the Collective will hold public-facing events; collaborate with organizations that serve marginalized populations; and offer multidisciplinary courses and training for undergraduate and graduate students, attuning them to the interplay of race, gender, and sexuality at work in the contexts they consider. By transcending institutional and disciplinary boundaries, the Collective aims to be both a space for those historically excluded, and an opportunity to transform and democratize knowledge production in a way that can influence policy at cultural institutions and on local and regional levels.
Four additional institutions were asked for proposals, and together with NYU will form an Intersectional Studies Collective with geographic reach across the US. While each institution will represent specific regional perspectives, NYU’s collective is uniquely situated to offer both a regional focus and a global microcosm, given the transnational dimensions of its populations. Summer institutes, symposia and speaker series will bring the larger collective together annually.
The Collective’s institutional home will be NYU's internationally recognized Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, established in 1999 and led by Gopinath since 2017. The Center regularly collaborates with the many departments, centers, and institutes engaged in intersectional gender and sexuality scholarship and community outreach across the University and its global sites. The Collective will look to deepen and expand upon those collaborations.
Gopinath and co-organizers spoke about the Collective and its innovative model. “The aim of this collective is to shift away from models that solely center academic thought; instead, we will bring together multiple entities to further dialogue across university constituents, artists, and organizers in order to amplify intersectional thought, and move us toward a better practice of it. We as academics have a great deal to learn about how intersectionality is lived daily from our engagement with on-the- ground activists who work with marginalized populations. It is not often that grassroots organizations get to sit down with artists and academics to think about the needs of communities together. The Mellon funding will allow us to host group dialogues, to provide these organizations with student- interns, and to facilitate artistic and activist exchanges. The Collective’s pedagogical imperative will address the fact that all too often, intersectionality as it has been theorized within Black and Women of Color feminism has been misrepresented in both academia and in public and popular discourse. We hope to foreground the ways that intersectional feminist/queer thought offers a sophisticated analysis of racial capitalism, empire, and settler colonialism, and how these phenomena are lived and felt every day in the most intimate of spaces: family and alternative kinship structures, the domestic sphere, the body itself.”
Slated for this month, the Collective’s first event is 8 Lives Vigil, organized with Red Canary Song, a grassroots collective of Asian and migrant sex workers, to mark the lives lost in the tragic spa shootings in Atlanta in 2021. Contextualizing the shootings within the history of fetishization, dehumanization and violence toward Asian and other BIWOC, LGBTQ and nonbinary peoples, the event on March 16, 2022 in Washington Square Park will bring together a broad mix of organizers and allies for speeches, music and art in a shared grief space.
Gopinath’s Mellon award was the first grant shepherded through the new Arts & Science Office of Research (ASOR). ASOR was formed in 2021 in recognition that progress on big, complex questions requires the expertise and collaboration of scholars from multiple disciplines. ASOR is a key resource for Arts & Science faculty, fostering collaboration by providing effective guidance and strategies, and bridging disciplinary cultural and translational divides. The humanities and social sciences are of special focus, as faculty in these areas have historically lacked access to the robust structural supports that facilitate research and scholarly inquiry, despite the tremendous impact and perspective their scholarship brings to both their own fields and the natural sciences. In the six months since its inception, ASOR has supported the administration and development of competitive grants in the humanities and social sciences totaling $12.5 million.
Alona Bach, Director of ASOR said: “Part of ASOR’s role is championing new directions and fields with real impact, social relevance, and broad-ranging implications. Gayatri and the Collective are leading the way in defining this field, which the Mellon Foundation has recognized.”